(NaturalNews) If you have ever wondered why junk food is almost always artificially cheap compared to healthy food, you need look no further than federal agriculture policy. Little do most people know that the federal government funnels billions of taxpayer dollars via the "Farm Bill" into large-scale crop systems that primarily grow genetically-modified (GM) soy, corn, cotton and other commodity crops used throughout the highly-processed, industrial food supply.
Every five years, Congress reviews the guidelines of the existing Farm Bill, and comes up with new ways to allocate the nearly-trillion dollar sum typically apportioned for American agriculture programs. And since existing Farm Bill provisions are set to expire on September 30, 2012, the Obama administration is currently pushing Congress to pass a revised Farm Bill known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.
Hailed as encompassing "the most significant reforms in agricultural policy in decades," the 2012 Farm Bill will allegedly end direct payments to farmers, end farm payments to individuals and entities whose gross income exceeds $750,000 per year, and consolidate risk management programs, among other things. But many of the provisions of the new bill still favor large-scale producers of mostly commodity crops at the expense of small-scale farmers, who receive little, if any, financial incentives or benefits.
"Every five years or so, Congress promises a new, improved farm bill that will end unnecessary subsidies to big farmers, enhance the environment and actually do something to help small farmers and small towns," writes Robert B. Semple Jr. from The New York Times (NYT). "But what it usually does is find ways of disguising the old inequities, sending taxpayers (sic) dollars to wealthy farmers, accelerating the expansion of industrial farming, inflating land prices and further depopulating rural America."
Direct payments, for instance, is a program that, since 1996, has been doling out payments to farmers for commodity crops regardless of market value or production levels. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and others, these payments have been given to farmers regardless of need.
The government has also been providing insurance subsidies to farmers who grow commodity crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice, and canola, which not only causes more farmers to grow these crops, but also puts these farmers at an unfair, competitive advantage compared to farmers who grow various other crops.
This year's Farm Bill, the Senate version of which was passed on June 21, is not really all that different from previous Farm Bills, as it still subsidizes industrial crops at the expense of non-industrial crops. This means that an organic farmer producing non-commodity crops like carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets, for instance, will not receive nearly the benefits nor the incentives that an industrial grower of GM corn will receive.
To make matters worse, large-scale growers in general are also given preferential treatment over small-scale growers, including small-scale farmers growing commodity crops. According to data collected by NYT, the top 20 percent of farm subsidy recipients between 1995 and 2010 received 90 percent of the overall allotment of subsidies, while the remaining 80 percent collectively received the remaining paltry 10 percent.
These and other inequities in the federal agriculture policy are what keeps America's food system both unhealthy and dominated by corporate, agricultural interests with no regard for human health. And they are the very inequities that groups like EWG are calling on Congress to address in this year's farm bill.